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Under 23 Australian Amateurs tour of Ireland

  • Sunday, October 23 2005 @ 08:07 pm ACST
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International Rules International Rules tours have been played at Under 17 AFL/GAA level back to 1981. However this month an under 23 Australian Amateur Football Council team completed its first tour of the Emerald Isle. The u23 Amateurs played 4 matches against an array of Irish teams from Club to a University rep side, Banks-Army team to the All Ireland team itself.

The team comprising most of the best young Australian rules football talent outside the AFL / VFL / WAFL / SANFL headed off to the Emerald Isle immediately after the AFL Grand Final. Indeed some of these players are undoubtedly as talented as those in the professional and semi-professional leagues, but like some Gaelic players such as Sean Cavanagh who rejected the Brisbane Lions offer recently, have chosen to play their Australian Rules football as amateurs for employment career and family reasons.

They were still recovering from jet lag when they ran into the All Ireland team, admittedly Irish coach Pete McGrath was experimenting with players as he used the match to select his squad. Michael Sholly, CEO of the Victorian Amateur Football Association and tour leader said the Aussie boys would've preferred to build up to playing the Irish national team, but Ireland's selection needs required the game to be their first hitout in the hybrid code. (Perhaps a later match against more seasoned and less jetlagged Aussies would've been in Ireland's interests too, as Irish coach Pete McGrath's lack of a warm up game before the 1st Test in Perth has been one factor mentioned in Ireland's drubbing by Kevin Sheedy's new look Australian side) Nonetheless Ireland were far too strong for the newly landed Aussie boys and dominated the match under the towering stands of Croke Park - 105 to 17.

Sholly says that the aim of the tour was to take the 21 young Australians, almost none of whom had been to Europe before and some who only met up for the first time at Singapore airport, to Ireland and experience a wide range of competition in the hybrid code as well as get out and see Ireland. Thus matches were also against the All-Ireland University side and then a combined Irish Banks & Armed Forces side, both in Galway in the west and then county Cork in the south east to play a club team, Bishop Town, under lights in front of a large crowd.

Scores with details of best players and goalscorers are available on the WAAFL website , for the record:

All Ireland 6-9-12 (105) def AAFC 0-4-5 (17) Croke Pk, Dublin, Oct 1st.

All Ireland Universities 5-4-0 (34) def AAFC 0-10-0 (30) University grounds, Galway, Oct 3rd

AAFC 4-12-14 (74) def Irish Combined Banks/Allied Forces 4-7-7 (52) Pearse Stadium, Galway, Oct 5th

AAFC 2-9-14 (53) def Bishop Town 2-10-5 (47) Bishop Town, Cork, Oct 7th

As one can see the itinerary was merciless but it apparently helped bond the side and get the skills of the round ball game on a roll. All matches were in excellent spirit with (unlike many an International Rules Series) not one fist thrown in anger, but only at the ball. There was also only 1 minor injury involving only 1 missed match. The players really enjoyed the hybrid code, in particular the immediate kick-out after a score, forcing the attacking team to immediately man-up initially took the Aussies off guard but was considered an exciting innovation that perhaps Australian Football should look at (it was trialled in the Wizard Cup). The converging styles of Gaelic and Aussie rules in recent years - with flooding a bane or a boon in both countries (depending on who you support - All Ireland champions Tyrone being masters of it like the Sydney Swans) was another noted feature in the games and post match discussions.

Sholly says the whole experience was great for the group who've made some deep friendships and are already planning to billet eachother at next year's state Amateur football carnival. It was also good for the 3 Amateur leagues in strengthening ties amongst the touring administrators to continue to foster amateur footy in the southern Australian states. The tour is planned to be repeated in 2007 and may become a regular biennial event as a reward for the best young Amateur Australian rules footballers, many of whom like the Irish forego a professional career despite their talents due to their non-sporting careers and studies.

Sholly also noted that although playing Australian Rules against international Australian rules teams would also be fantastic, at this stage a team of the calibre of the u23 tourists would be too strong. That of course should change in years to come, but meanwhile the Irish competitiveness and the cultural aspects to the tour made the experience very rewarding.